Shocking video shows an incapacitated woman wearing only a thin gown, left out in the freezing cold by staff at a Baltimore hospital.
The hospital was thrust into the national spotlight and social media erupted with outrage after a viral video showed security guards leaving a disoriented woman from the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown on the street, barely dressed, when the temperature was in the 30s. It’s the latest hospital across the country accused of a practice known as “patient dumping” or “hospital dumping” in which patients who are homeless, mentally ill or both are released to the streets.
The man who said he came to the aid of a woman discharged from a Baltimore hospital wearing only a gown and socks on a cold winter’s night says he was left outraged and stunned at how she was treated.
Imamu Baraka, identified in local reports as the person who sought to help the woman, told the Associated Press he was so angry that he decided to record Tuesday night’s events on cellphone video, fearing no one would believe him if he reported a woman being left at a bus stop like that.
“I saw the unthinkable: another human in a wheelchair being wheeled out in the dead of cold,” he said in a phone interview Thursday evening.
He described temperatures in the 30s and a cold wind blowing at the woman’s hospital gown, exposing her to the elements.
Baraka, who said he has a psychotherapy practice in a building across the street from the Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus, said he rushed back to his office, retrieved his cellphone, returned and hit “record” while growing increasingly angry.
As a medical professional, the psychotherapist said, he sought to keep his emotions in check even as he repeatedly challenged those who had wheeled the woman out to the street in the dark.
“At first I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I move beyond that to the next level from being shocked. I became … irritated and fearful for the young lady. And then I became angry,” he recalled.
He added he failed to get satisfactory answers as he tried to help the woman.
Of those who brought her outdoors, he said: “I asked them three times, I asked them specifically, ‘Are you going to leave this lady out here like this?’ They kept walking. They then went inside of the building.” He said he went and asked a security guard outside the hospital for a supervisor and was told, “I am the supervisor.”
Rebuffed, he said, he then went and tried to help the woman shelter in the bus stop while calling 911 for an ambulance. He said he asked the arriving ambulance crew where they would take her, and they replied, “Back to the hospital.”
Recalled Baraka, “I said, ‘Are you kidding me, they just dumped her on the curb.’”
It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the woman after she was driven back toward the hospital. But the hospital confirmed in a statement that the woman was discharged that Tuesday night.
Baraka has since spoken with the woman’s mother, who contacted him after seeing the video. During the three-hour discussion, she told him her daughter was 22 years old. The woman is now safe with family and being well taken care of, he said.
The family told Baraka that the hospital had put the woman in a cab to a homeless shelter and that was where the mother found her. He declined to describe her mental or medical conditions or why her family didn’t know where she was.
“She said her daughter had been missing,” he said. “She did some momma bear stuff to find her after she saw the video.”
Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus, told a news conference Thursday afternoon that the hospital had “failed” after the video posted on Facebook showed the unidentified woman mumbling and appearing disoriented in frigid weather outside. Suntha also said there were no excuses for what happened to the woman.
“We believe firmly that we provided appropriate medical care to a patient who came to us in need, but where we absolutely failed, and where we own that failure, is in the demonstration of basic humanity and compassion as a patient was being discharged from our organization after having received that care,” he said.
He added that the woman wasn’t mistreated while in the hospital’s care and that the incident was isolated and that hospital officials were conducting an extensive internal review.
Said Suntha, “We do not believe that what occurred Tuesday night in any way defines who we are as an organization. There has been a lot of conversation since this incident came to light.”
The issue of people being put out of hospitals is a nationwide problem. The New York Times first began writing about the issues in the 1870s, when private hospitals were sending patients to the city’s public hospital, according to a 2011 report in the American Journal of Public Health.
The 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act forbids emergency rooms to deny hospital services if patients can’t pay. Hospitals must transfer patients they can’t stabilize. The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, also requires that hospitals have a discharge plan. But the discharge policies can differ by hospital and the practice of hospital dumping persists.
The city of Los Angeles began a crackdown on hospital dumping about a decade ago after several incidents there, particularly along Skid Row, where many of the city’s homeless people live. The city has imposed millions of dollars in fines on hospitals for the practice.
Good Samaritan Hospital had to pay $450,000 to settle allegations that it dumped a homeless patient on the street in 2014 after he was treated for a foot injury. The hospital admitted no wrongdoing. In 2007, a paraplegic man was found crawling around Skid Row and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was accused of taking him there without a wheelchair. The hospital paid $1 million to settle that case.
In May 2017, two Howard University police officers and their supervisor were fired in May after being recorded dumping a patient from a wheelchair outside the university’s hospital in Washington, according to reports in The Washington Post. A video of the incident showed a male officer pushing the barefoot woman to a bus stop. Two other officers watched as she fell onto the sidewalk.
It is unclear how prevalent hospital dumping is in Baltimore or across the country because it is not tracked by federal or state officials.
“This incident is very visual because it happened on camera,” Breidenstine said. “I am sure it happens more than we know. But it is hard to know how much because we don’t have the data.”